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Barbara Laskin

The Rev. Donald Beisswenger Awarded Macalester Honorary Degree

St. Paul, Minn. The Rev. Donald Beisswenger of Nashville, Tenn., was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Macalester College at this year’s alumni association awards convocation.  Beisswenger graduated from Macalester in 1952. 

Beisswenger earned his divinity degree from Yale University and pastured churches for seven years.  In 1962 in Chicago, he worked on assembly lines and developed a business-industrial ministry. He also traveled to the South to register African-American voters. Once, when black friends were prevented from buying a house, he and his wife bought it and then resold it to their friends, despite threats and harassment.

In 1968, Beisswenger joined the Vanderbilt Divinity School and became a professor and director of field education, where he guided students to connect religious faith with personal and social existence. His work brought national recognition to the divinity school for the excellence of the field studies program.

Beisswenger has co-edited five volumes of Theological Field Education: Key Resources and has been active with the Association of Theological Field Education, including a term as president.

After retiring from Vanderbilt in 1996, he continued to work on behalf of the poor and homeless in Nashville and to study the oppressed poor in Latin America. His activism led to his arrest and subsequent prison sentence for protesting U.S. military policy in 2004 at what was then The School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Ga.

“I am a post-Holocaust Christian who learned that Christian nations can too easily ignore brutality and atrocities done in their name,” Beisswenger said at his sentencing.  “We must always seek to obey God rather than humans. Thoreau once said that protest without resistance is consent. I think we consent if we don’t protest.”

In 2002, Macalester honored Beisswenger with a Distinguished Citizen Citation, which recognizes alumni who have exercised leadership in civic, social, religious and professional activities.

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,884 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.

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